I love preparing pasta for my family that is a meal in itself – no side dishes needed. Whether you start with homemade or store-bought pasta sauce doesn’t matter – you and your kids will love this souped up sauce!
In my many years working as a caregiver, I have found that some kids will eat a lot more meats and vegetables when they are “in” something. Yes, I agree… kids need to develop their pallets. They need to be exposed to a variety of foods and tastes not drowned in sauce or enhanced with flavor aids. But sometimes a mom just wants her kids to eat a good healthy meal without a struggle. This is my answer.
You may have to experiment with different sauces, meats and/or veggies to find combinations that you and your kids will like. And of course you don’t have to include anything you don’t want – make it your own. If you are a vegetarian don’t add meat. If you are a vegan don’t add any dairy. If you don’t like broccoli use another vegetable – simple.
Ground Turkey, shredded carrots, chopped zucchini and broccoli in a pink sauce that I put in Turkey Vegetable Lasagna.
How to Turn Pasta Sauce into a Healthy Meal
- Olive oil
- Pasta Sauce(s) (see options below)
- Meat if desired (see options below)
- Herbs & vegetables (see options below)
- Pasta of choice and a pot to cook it in.
- Large saute pan with lid (We use a large cast iron skillet that adds much-needed iron to our sauce)
Pasta Sauce Options:
Use your favorite sauce. I recommend making more than you need for dinner and freezing the rest. Some options to consider follow:
- Store bought sauce(s) of choice [We often use a jar of organic marinara and a jar of Alfredo combined to make a yummy pink sauce.]
- Your own homemade sauce made fresh, or frozen to use later.
- How I Made Pasta Sauce from Garden Fresh Tomatoes from The Life of Jennifer Dawn
- Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce from Arts and Crackers
- Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce from Our Good Life
I use about a half pound of meat in my sauce but I usually make enough to eat, and enough to freeze for another meal each time I prepare it. Use the amount you think would be best considering the amount of sauce your making, and the other ingredients that you are including.
- Ground turkey, chicken, pork or beef.
- Pork, turkey, beef or chicken sausage of choice. (Take out of casing or cut into rounds, half rounds, or quarter rounds)
- Pre-cooked meat of any kind desired in strips or cubes.
Herb & Vegetable Options:
You can add whatever herbs and vegetables you like. Fresh organic vegetables always taste best, but frozen (or dried in the case of herbs) can easily be substituted.
I don’t measure exactly how much I put in because every sauce is different. It always depends on the amount of sauce I’m using and what I’m putting inside.
Generally I would say I use a half to a whole cup of each vegetable – but it does vary. Sometimes I make refrigerator/garden sauce and use whatever I have available. When I add in herbs, I use about a half to a full teaspoon.
The options we have tried and enjoyed in various combinations are:
- Onions (Chopped)
- Garlic (Chop or use garlic press)
- Basil (Chopped)
- Oregano (chopped)
- Spinach (Whole or chopped)
- Kale (Chopped)
- Broccoli (Chopped or cut into small pieces)
- Cauliflower (Fresh or frozen chopped or cut into small pieces)
- Zucchini (Shredded or cut into match sticks, rounds, half-rounds or quarter rounds)
- Carrots (Shredded or cut into match sticks, rounds, half-rounds or quarter rounds)
- Corn (Cut)
There are many options of pasta to choose from – choose whatever kind you like. We love to use rice pasta’s of various kinds because my husband does not tolerate gluten. You can even add this sauce to a homemade lasagna if you wish – we do it all the time. Click on the link for our favorite recipe.
How to Make Sauce:
I have found that a sauce with spinach with or without meat is the easiest and fastest meal to make. Of course, only add meats and/or vegetables in combinations that YOU think would taste good – make this YOUR own.
Step 1 – Prepare to Cook
- Get out saute pan and pasta pot.
- Fill pasta pot with water and place on stove top.
- Prepare all meat and vegetables that you will be using.
Step 2 – Warm Pan
- Use a large saute pan that will fit all of your ingredients. (we use a large cast iron pan with a lid)
- Add 1 – 3 tbsp of olive oil
Step 3 – Saute Onions (optional)
- If you want onions in your sauce start with this step. If not, skip it.
- Add in fresh garlic when onions are almost transparent if needed/desired.
Step 4 – Brown meat or sausages
- If you are including meat in your sauce add it to the onions when they become transparent.
- If you are not starting with onions add the meat to the pan after you add the oil in step 1 above.
- Cook meat until it about half done, you should still see some pink. Don’t worry – it will completely cook in step 6.
Step 5 – Start Boiling Water
- If you are making dinner right now, turn the flame on under your pot of water.
Step 6 – Add in Vegetables
- Once the meat is about half done add in the vegetables to saute.
- If you are not starting with onions or meat add vegetables after you add the oil in Step 1.
- If using spinach add it when the rest of the vegetables are almost done – it melts down fast.
- Add in a little water to help the vegetables steam. There is usually no need to add water if you are using only spinach. I usually add a tablespoon to a quarter cup of water depending on the amount of vegetables I’m using.
- Place lid on pan.
- Lift lid and stir every few minutes until meat and vegetables are done but not overdone. The meat should be brown, and you should be able to pierce the vegetables with a fork.
Step 7 – Add sauce of choice
- Add sauce to everything already in the pan.
- Stir periodically to evenly heat sauce.
- Heat uncovered until sauce starts boil and is throughly warm.
Step 8 – Plate it
- Put your pasta of choice on plates or in bowls.
- Place sauce on top.
- Add graded parmesan cheese on top if desired.
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the power of the imagination, learning through play, making this world a greener place to live, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…